Bluffs Weighs Future of Fire Service in Calm, Peaceful Meeting
By Leo Coughlin
BELLEAIR BLUFFS – With the heated tempers and words of last week notably absent, the City Commission Monday night heard the city’s fire chief, Patrick Competilli, outline the options left to the city for its fire service.
Belleair Bluffs had been the provider of fire service for Belleair and the two unincorporated areas south of the city – Harbor Bluffs and Harbor Hills – until Belleair decided to change its fire service provider to Largo.
That set off a firestorm of words at last week’s meeting with lots of accusations and recriminations, but when the dust settled the bottom line was what do we do now?
The options, three in number, were obviously not rich in choice.
One was to hook up with Pinellas Suncoast Fire and Rescue, located in Indian Rocks Beach, continue with the city’s fire department, or contract with Largo and get subsumed into the bigger city’s sophisticated system.
Largo as the choice makes the most sense because Pinellas Suncoast just doesn’t work out, keeping the fire department as a city function would be very costly and bring a big millage increase.
Fire Chief Mike Wallace of Largo was at Monday night’s meeting and told the Bluffs commissioners that the cost for fire service with his department would be about $244,000 (affordable in Belleair Bluffs), that he would guarantee jobs for the 12 firefighters now in the Bluffs department, and that the fire station now in the Bluffs would remain there until 2012.
One wrinkle in the whole situation is that Belleair Bluffs cannot dissolve its fire department or contract with another entity for fire services without voter approval.
The commission set September 1 as the date for a referendum on the fire services question and voters are likely to be faced with these alternatives – 1. Keep the present fire department with a large increase in the millage rate, or 2. Have a lower millage rate and contract with an outside provider.
Mayor Chris Arbutine was given the green light by the commission to go ahead and start negotiations with Largo next month.
Presumably, Harbor Bluffs and Harbor Hills will wind up with fire services from Largo. Wallace would be working through the county to establish that.
In the meantime, fire service in the district will continue as it is until the realignment is accomplished.
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